Mystery Mum is off again, enjoying the long, late summer days and discovering parts of Hampshire never conquered before! A spot of exploring at Hurst Castle, some days at the beach and the lovely seaside town of Ryde... there is just so much fun to be had. Are these family friendly destinations as welcoming as they could be? Mystery Mum finds out!
DESTINATION: Milford on Sea
The historic village of Milford-on-Sea is protected by two conservation areas and once you see how pretty the area is, you know why! The surrounding countryside is full of little villages and secret hamlets that are populated by chocolate box cottages, perfect country churches and the glorious Hampshire countryside.
Milford on Sea is a real gem, nestling on the border of the sea and the forest it enjoys a unique setting. It is, however, a popular destination and can get rather busy, so get there early to secure a good spot.
Let's hit the beach... Milford on Sea
This is a cheery place to bring children. Even if the weather is windy or a bit cool you can still do loads of things on such a pretty coastline. There's a long shingle beach with patches of sand revealed at low tide. Little traditional beach huts edge the beach and out to sea the Isle of Wight and The Needles are in sight.
A military visit... Hurst Castle
This is a really cool castle, but not ideal for little children as it is situated at the end of a huge shingle spit which is about 40 minutes tricky walk from the coast - no buggy would make it, I am sure! You can arrive by ferry which gets you right to the castle and this is the best way to approach if you have a buggy or children with short legs that might not manage the distance.
When you get there, Hurst is a low, menacing castle and from the top you get some great views over the Isle of Wight, out to see and inland. It was built by Henry VIII in 1544 and during World War II it came into active service as a look-out post and coastal gun batteries were manned.
Today, there are all sorts of navy and maritime exhibits/exhibitions including the restored World War II Garrison Theatre, the Trinity House lighthouse exhibition and the Association of Lighthouse Keepers' display room with lots of lighthouse paraphernalia to see. For young chaps there are lots of guns, rifles and cannons to marvel at, plus walls to climb and battlements, underground rooms and tunnels to explore.
Open: 10.30am - 5.30pm.
Entry: Adult £4.00; Child £2.50.
Parking: There is no car park and access is via the shingle spit that extends 1.5 miles from Milford-On-Sea.
By Boat: You can come by boat from Keyhaven where a regular ferry service operates from April to October. Ferry: Return fare Adult £5.50; Child £3.00.
Hurst Castle, 28 Park Road, Milford on Sea, SO41 0QU
www.hurstcastle.co.uk, 01590 642344
Stay in woodland log cabins... Shorefield Holiday Park
These comfortable lodges have a leafy, woodland backdrop and they're ideal for traveling with a family. You get so much space indoors and outside, and you get to spend time in close proximity to the countryside.
The lodges at Shorefield are totally self-contained, surrounded by a wrap-around deck and a grassy verge so there is masses of open space to spread out and relax. The facilities inside the lodges are perfectly adequate for a weekend stay or longer: there's a TV, washing machine, dishwasher and fully equipped kitchen. Linen and towels are provided and is all fresh and clean.
The public areas are well presented. The indoor and outdoor pool give a good choice but the indoor pool was (even in early summer) so cold! The park information states the pool is kept at a temperature of 83 degrees for environmental reasons, which is all very commendable but it didn't seem nearly that warm and the little ones were a shade of pale blue when they emerged from under their swimming rings.
The Spa is a must for a quick pedicure or facial. The therapists are friendly and approachable, and the decor and ambiance is not at all intimidating. It's ideal for someone who's never dared step into a spa as everything is explained and accessible. Yet, there is still enough choice of therapies and treatments for the seasoned spa-goer.
Warning: Avoid driving through Lyndhurst to get there if you can, as the traffic can be dreadful!
Shoefield Holiday Park, Shorefield Road, Downton, SO41 0LH
www.shorefield.co.uk, 01590 648331
DESTINATION: Peppa Pig World
A place to meet the real-life Peppa Pig and George... Peppa Pig World
I challenge anyone not to be moved by Peppa Pig World. It is a sensational place to spend a day even if you're a grown-up - so who can even imagine how exhilarating it is if you're a toddler meeting your real-life hero in her very own tailor made world!
The rides are all perfectly designed for little ones. The Balloon ride whisks you up and away into the clouds; the Dinosaur Ride takes you on a wobbly track through the wonderful world of George and his friends and Daddy Pig's car ride even has Mrs Zebra with her lollipop to help the characters cross the road safely.
The people who have designed this have thought of everything, to be honest: from great kiddie menus; masses of changing and washing facilities; shady spaces to cool off and sensibly priced gifts on sale in the Peppa Pig Shop. You can buy huge things, but there are also lots of decent pocket-money priced gifts too.
The only thing is that Peppa Pig World is going to be a victim of its own success. It is the most sought after ticket in the land at the moment and children the width and length of the country are begging to go. So, choose the day you visit carefully. Avoid all weekends, holidays and days when older children may be able to get in. Instead, choose midweek, during school term time if you can otherwise you may find yourself in long, hot, boring queues.
Peppa Pig World, Paultons Park, Ower, Romsey, SO51 6AL
www.paultons.co.uk, 023 8081 4442
Somewhere to paddle... Brockenhurst River
Get back to nature when you stop off at this pretty little river for a paddle, just off the main road, near the Balmer Lawn Hotel. This charming little woodland spot is ideal for a picnic or a wander as the river is shallow and New Forest ponies meander around, nibbling grass just watching the world go by. They are so confident near people and they won't be moved on unless they really want to. Some ponies were even bold enough to try to gate-crash a family's beautifully picnic spread on the ground...
There is something very peaceful about sitting at the water's edge dangling feet into a cold river. The children loved running in and out of the water and across to a little island in the middle of the brook - even though the water was ice cold! It's really worth a visit for its perfect countryside setting.
Parking: Small car park
Location: SO42 7ZB
DESTINATION: Ryde, Isle of Wight
Getting to the Isle of Wight is so easy and as you have to travel over the sea on a great big ferry, it really does feel like you're heading off on holiday when you go there. Red Funnel offer regular vehicle ferries from Southampton and it takes only about 40 minutes. Ryde is one of the closest towns to the ferry terminal so it's ideal if you don't want to spend too much time in the car.
Prices: Return ferry travel for a car and up to six passengers is from £39.50.
Red Funnel Ferries
www.redfunnel.co.uk, 0844 844 9988
Ryde is known as the Gateway to the Island because it's easy to reach, but on a nice day you could be in Monte Carlo... with a bit of imagination. It is a traditional seaside town, complete with promenade, pier and lovely Victorian architecture with bay windows and ornate balconies, and attractive arcades full of pretty little shops and cafes.
Buggy access: Busy pavements with lots of tourists at peak times, but people are pretty friendly and generally dip out of the way of buggies... knowing they may well get bumped if they don't!
Parking: Parking on the street in the roads (time restrictions apply) plus St Thomas' Road Car Park approx £1 an hour.
Sand between your toes... Ryde Beach
What a fabulous place for those of us who love buckets and spades! Ryde's main attraction is the six miles of golden sand and shallow coastal sea. It seems to go on for ever and as the tide goes out, even more sand is revealed.
At low tide there is a vast area of beach exposed with little puddles of sandy water to tip toe through, and fabulous sand for castles and other creative constructions! There is always plenty of space, but be aware that there is no shade, so bring plenty of drinks, sun screen and clothing to cover up happy little kids as they play in the sand.
Also, the tide turns very quickly and there are always unwary sunbathers caught out on a little island because they have wandered too far. You'll also see horses enjoying a trot along the seashore and out at sea you often get to see some of the huge ocean liners or massive container ships sailing from Southampton out to their exotic destinations.
A stroll along the prom and you reach the lovely Appley Beach and Puckpool Point where a natural, sheltered bay creates a huge expanse of sand and a gently sloping beach. The wide, promenade is just perfect for buggies or a slow toddle as it's flat and beautifully maintained... it best enjoyed holding an ice cream!
Play Time!... Appley Play Park
Appley is a nice, spacious and clean play park for children... and it's a short walk from the toilets!
There's also a pitch and putt (be careful of flying golf balls!) and the Victorian landmark of Appley Tower.
Walk along the Prom... Ryde Esplanade and Pier
This was one of the earliest piers to be built, opening in July 1814. It was originally built to bring visitors from pleasure boats. Previously, they had to engage the services of porters who literally carried them!
It's a lovely pier now, beautifully restored (and safe!). The children loved to see the sea below as they trundle along its length looking out to sea on all sides.
Take to the ice... at Planet Ice Rink
Just next to the hovercraft terminal on the Esplanade is the ice rink. Who cares if it's sunny outside, its a lovely way to spend a family afternoon together as you gingerly wobble across the ice holding hands, grabbing sleeves and generally having a great time! They have Penguins for hire for the children to hold onto as they slide round the rink so little ones can be more self sufficient.
Entry rates: Family tickets 2 Adults and 2 children £26.00
Toddler rates: Between 10.00am-12.00pm for parent and child £5.80 (including hire of skates)
and you can stay as long as you like.
Penguins: Stability penguins can be hired and safety helmets for children.
Something to eat after a skate around... Ice Bites
Planet Ice have a restaurant where you can grab a bite to eat. A child's menu is available from £3.50 for any sort of burger (beef, chicken, cheese, vegetarian) and chips.
Baby change: Yes.
Highchair: Yes - only one!
Colouring pack: No.
Planet Ice Arena, Quay Road, Esplanade,Ryde, PO33 2HH
www.planet-ice.co.uk, 01983 615 155
Shop 'Til You Drop...
Union Street and High Street further back from the seafront is packed with some interesting shops and restaurants. Plenty of antique shops and brick-a-brac shops sit next to each other in Upper High Street and the lovely Victoria Arcade in Union Street where you are bound to find a bargain in the tiny boutiques, curio shops and the atmospheric flea market.
A beautiful gift to take home... Lavender Blue
A charming shop with a tempting window full of beautiful toys, gifts and baby accessories. Inside, it's even more exciting as the plush Peter Rabbits nestle next to scruffy dogs and floppy Rag Dolls sharing a shelf with cuddly Pooh Bears. The range of goodies on offer stretches from christening gifts to games and baby clothes, all lovingly presented. It's really worth a look round... but don't take the children with you or it will cost you a fortune!
11 Union Street, Ryde, PO33 2DU
The shop that will have you redecorating... Crocus
Full of fresh, new and innovative products to decorate your home, plus some traditional ideas and inspiration, Crocus is a shop that everyone should visit now and again to get ideas and goodies to make homes more homely!
There are lots of familiar names: Cath Kidston, Rowan and Burts Bees but also a range of lesser known designers and craftsmen. And, the owner is on hand to give plenty of advice and help if required.
The baby section is incredibly popular and some of the most gorgeous and unusual clothing I have ever seen! Busy Peas is just inspired: it features baby-grows, bibs and baby clothing covered in the cutest vegetable characters and images. They are soft to touch, well made and a delight to see on any babe!
Crocus, 46 Union Street, Ryde
www.crocusinteriors.com, 01983 611144
All the fun of the fair... Peter Pan Playground
This is an ideal spot to bring children for a great afternoon of rides at reasonable prices. On Saturdays a £5.99 wrist band gets you unlimited access to the rides from 2.00pm-5.00pm which means you can go on the swirling tea cups, the chugging tractors or the bumper bats as many times as you can manage! Captain Hook adventure golf is fun and the traditional carousel a great favourite.
Cost: Pay as you go tokens required for rides that cost between £1.00 - £2.00 per go or there's a £8.99 daily unlimited wristband during certain hours.
Opening hours: from 10.00am
Baby Changing: No.
Parking: Available along the sea front.
Peter Pan Playground, Esplanade, Ryde
www.peterpans-iow.co.uk, 01983 566339